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Alternative Dispute Resolution in the sports arena: It's a knock-out!


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Alternative Dispute Resolution in the sports arena: It's a knock-out!

Webber Wentzel

26th March 2024


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In the exhilarating arena of sports, where passion collides with precision and triumph meets tribulation, conflicts are as inevitable as the roar of the crowd. Beyond the field a compelling competition unfolds — one that takes place in the boardrooms, locker rooms, and negotiation tables. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms can assist with resolving disputes, where disputes cannot be settled with the simple blow of a whistle. 

ADR offers an alternative to litigation where parties in a dispute reach a settlement outside of court. A neutral third party, known as the mediator or the arbitrator, assists the parties to resolve the dispute. This is a more advantageous method of dispute resolution, as it is more cost effective and flexible as compared to litigation. The sports realm relies heavily on tribunals such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the FIFA Football Tribunal (FIFA Tribunal).


The CAS is situated in the midst of the sports dispute settlement process. Established in 1984, CAS serves as the ultimate dispute resolution mechanism within the sporting realm. From contested doping allegations from the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) to contractual disagreements between athletes and their teams, CAS provides a neutral and specialised forum where both parties can seek a fair and final resolution. Operating independently of any sporting organisation, the court upholds a standard of impartiality and expertise, drawing from a roster of legal experts and arbitrators with a deep understanding of the intricacies of sports law. A platform is provided to achieve a legally binding award, which is based on the Code of Sport-related Arbitration CAS stands as the bastion of justice in the sports arena, with the foundation of fairness and integrity.

The FIFA Tribunal combines the existing FIFA decision-making bodies into a single unit to assist with dispute resolution and decisions on regulatory matters. This will simplify all governance elements and deliver a better decision-making system. The FIFA Tribunal comprises three chambers: the Dispute Resolution Chamber; the Players' Status Chamber; and the Agents Chamber. Adding a dash of innovation to the procedural symphony, specific rules govern this footballing tribunal, ushering in a new era of clarity and accessibility. Among the notable changes, the proceedings are now free of charge when involving at least one natural person, the window to settle procedural costs has shrunk to a brisk 10 days, and a nimble expedited process for preliminary matters ensures swift resolutions. Most intriguingly, the introduction of a voluntary and cost-free mediation process offers parties a collaborative avenue for resolution, transforming the FIFA Tribunal into not just an arbiter of conflicts but a beacon of progressive and equitable decision-making.


As our courts are filling up with a backlog of court cases, ADR emerges as a bespoke solution, extending an inviting haven for concerns to find resonance. ADR, with its economical allure and laid-back ambience, unfolds within the discreet confines of privacy. It stands as a beacon for sports luminaries entangled in time-sensitive disputes or grappling with the ceaseless orchestration of sporting events. Here, amidst the realm of ADR, the disputing parties wield the reins, steering their conflicts towards resolution with a sense of empowerment.

Unlike the decisive blow of a referee's whistle, ADR offers a nuanced and strategic approach to dispute resolution. In this arena of conflict and resolution, where the stakes are high and the outcomes impact not just the athletes, but entire organisations and communities, the adoption of ADR emerges as a vital tool for sustaining the integrity and harmony of the sports world.

Written by Ayanda Khumalo, Partner & Danica Jonker, Candidate attorney, Webber Wentzel



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